Skip to content

Photographing the Washington Monument

January 11, 2013
This photo makes a great desktop wallpaper.

This photo makes a great desktop wallpaper.

At 555 ft., the Washington Monument is the second highest point in Washington, DC (after Washington National Cathedral).  You can’t miss it.  In fact, if you’re ever lost, it’s a good thing to look for to get your bearings.  It sits right in the middle of the National Mall so during even a short stay in DC, you’re likely to see the Monument from a number of angles and have ample opportunity to get photos.  The gigantic size and central placement of the Monument present some unique photographic opportunities and challenges. I’ll walk you through some of those and hopefully set you on the right path for great photos of this unique structure.

When to Go

I usually advise people to avoid times of the year when DC is overrun with tourists. You don’t want to spend your vacation hoping some family figures out how to use their camera so they can take their family portrait and get out of your way.  Since the Washington Monument sits in the middle of a vast amount of open space (the National Mall), it’s easy to find a place where people aren’t cluttering the foreground of your photo.  With crowds being less of a consideration, it then becomes of a matter of what will make a good foreground and background for your photo.  Many of the photographic possibilities I discuss below incorporate trees.  This makes the blooming of the cherry blossoms in late March – early April and the Autumn colors in late October – early November particularly good times to go.  The grass around the Monument turns an unpleasant shade of brown from December – early March making those months less ideal.

Const Gardens Fall          Cherry Blossoms HDR 12 (7 Pix)

I’ve gotten great photos of the Washington Monument at all times of day.  The area around the Monument is wide open on all sides allowing for great sunrise and sunset backdrops.  Many of my favorite shots of the Monument were taken during morning or evening twilight; just before sunrise or just after sunset.  The sky is beautifully lit, but you don’t have high contrast and dynamic range to worry about.  The Washington Monument is bathed in light all night long. The lights are extremely bright which can cause problems if you want to expose some darker area in the foreground.  In these situations, the Monument will often end up blown out.

Ticketed TimeThe observation level of the Washington Monument is only open during the day; from 9 – 5.  Free, timed tickets are available at the visitor’s center starting at 8:30.  If you don’t want to get up that early (what’s wrong with you) or if you’re worried about not getting tickets, you can also get tickets online for a small processing fee.  As you might expect, the winter months are less crowded.

Photographic Possibilities

The Washington Monument’s height makes it visible from many places around the National Mall, providing for a number of interesting possibilities.

-Around the Base-

At the base of the Washington Monument there is a circular platform surrounded by 50 flags. To me, these flags are the most picturesque thing about the area immediately surrounding the Monument; I try to incorporate them whenever possible.  You can also take photos directed upward toward the pinnacle, but I find these to be less appealing.

Washington Monument HDR Panorama 02 (7 X 5 Pix)

-Out a Little Further From the Base-

Washington Memorial at Sunset HDR 02 (5 Pix)The main challenge with taking photos of the Monument is that it is 10 times taller than it is wide.  It’s tough to fit the whole thing in a single picture

This is most easily solved by walking away from the base, zooming all the way out, tilting your camera back, and shooting with a portrait orientation.  That isn’t necessarily the framing that you want though. You have a centered composition, you’re stuck with portrait orientation, and the Monument looks like it’s leaning backward because you used too wide a focal length and/or you tilted too far back.  So it becomes a matter of experimenting with how far to move back.

One thing that it took me a number of trips to the Monument to learn is that  you don’t have to get the whole thing in a single photo.  Play around with different pieces of the full structure.

Washington Monument HDR (3 Pix)           Washington Monument HDR 02 (3 Pix)

-Reflecting Pool-

The most iconic composition of the Washington Monument is from the West end of the Reflecting Pool ((1) in the map below), near the Lincoln Memorial.

Reflecting Pool Sunrise HDR (5 Pix)

- Elsewhere on the National Mall-

Washmon Photo Locales

Click on the map to see it in a larger size

As you’re wandering around, you’ll have opportunities to compose unique photos that incorporate some of DC’s other iconic locations.  The Washington Monument can be seen from the (2) Lincoln, (3) Jefferson, (4) MLK, and (5) Vietnam Memorials.  It can also be seen towering over the (6) Tidal Basin and (7) Constitution Gardens.

National Mall Collage

-Observation Level-

Washington Monument Visitor's Center HDR 06 (5 Pix)The observation level of the Washington Monument provides you with amazing views of all of Washington.  Once you get to the top you proceed at your own pace. You can take as much time as you want to take your photos.

There are two windows on each of the four sides facing the cardinal directions.  Looking out the North side, you can see the White House, the Ellipse, and the Washington cityscape.  Out the East side, you can see the various Smithsonian Museums, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the Library of Congress. Out of the South side you can see the Jefferson Memorial, the Tidal Basin, and National Airport. And finally, out of the East side, you can see the Reflecting Pool, the Lincoln Memorial, the War Memorials, and Arlington Cemetery.

You will likely want a mixture of wide-angle photos to capture the amazing expanse that you can see and tight, narrowly-focused photos of the individual places I wrote about above.  There isn’t much room for swapping out lenses, so be sure you choose wisely before going up.

Observation Deck Collage

What to Bring

Lens: Since the Monument can be seen from pretty much anywhere, there is a wide variety of possibilities for lenses. For photos at the Reflecting Pool or the Tidal Basin, you will want a mid-range zoom lens (18-135mm for DX; 27-200mm for FX) to give you some choices for framing.  For photos closer to the base, you can use the mid-range lens or you may want a wide-angle lens (< 18mm DX; < 27mm FX).  And finally, for photos from the observation level you may want a telephoto lens (> 135mm DX; > 200mm FX).  You will also want a telephoto lens for taking the Big 3 photo that includes the Washington Monument.

Tripod: I recommend bringing a tripod.  Tripods aren’t allowed on the observation level, but they are allowed pretty much everywhere else on the National Mall.  You will definitely want one for sunrise/sunset photos, HDR, and photos using higher focal lengths.  There are a lot of big, open areas around the Monument without many convenient places to use a table-top tripod, so you can leave that at home or in your hotel room.

Flash: Leave the flash behind.  Unless you’re taking portraits of your friends and family, a hot-shoe flash isn’t going to help you much.

Filters: You may want a circular polarizing filter. Your photos of the Monument will undoubtedly include the sky. To cut down some of the haze that hangs over DC and to get a deeper blue sky, consider using a circular polarizing filter.

Bag: Bring a medium or large bag. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of possibilities as far as lenses, filters, tripods, etc.  You may want a variety of equipment, but keep in mind that the Washington Monument is right in the middle of the action so if you’re in DC for several days you’ll likely get multiple attempts to photograph it.

What you should bring will also depend on whether you plan on going to the Monument’s observation level.  The National Park Service, Washington Monument website says that large bags are prohibited.  It doesn’t define what large means exactly, but I wouldn’t try to bring in a backpack or a tripod (even just to carry with you).  Outside the Monument however, there is plenty of room to bring a large backpack.

Additional Resources

  • National Park Service, Washington Monument Homepage – The National Park Service doesn’t always do the best job with keeping their site up-to-date, but most of the information you’ll want to know for logistics can be found there.
  • My Washington Monument Photo Set at Flickr – I didn’t put all of my Washington Monument photos in this article. You can see a more comprehensive set by clicking this link.
  • Construction Update – Check here for the most recent copy of the Construction Update (updated quarterly) to see if there are any construction projects that may interfere with your photographic opportunities at the Washington Monument.
  • Event Calendar – I post events here as often as soon as I hear about them. Check back to find events like the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Kite Festival, rallies/protests, etc..
  • PhototourDC – After I started this site I found a blog by a guy with similar content.  If you’re looking for a second opinion on some of the stuff I suggested. Check it out.

 Summary

What:          The Washington Monument

Where:        Madison Drive Northwest, Washington, DC 20024

When:          Anytime

    ____________________________

Lens:            Wide – Angle (DX: < 18mm; FX: <27mm), Telephoto (18-135mm; 27-200mm), & Super-Telephoto (>135mm; >200mm)

Tripod:       Bring it

Flash:           Leave it

Filter:           Circular Polarizer

Bag:               Any Size; Small or Medium Size Bag if Going Inside

Construction Report: January – March 2013

January 1, 2013

UPDATED (28 February 2013) – Look for the word (UPDATED) to see what’s changed.

I’ve been AWOL from the blog for a couple months; taking vacations, snapping photos, processing photos, etc.  But enough excuses, I’m back now and it’s time for another installment of the Construction Update.   While demand for the Update has slowed since the completion of the Reflecting Pool renovation, it is still one of my most popular articles with 2,731 total pageviews (9% of pageviews) across five iterations.

I finally cleared the Reflecting Pool off of the list. It’s back to looking amazing and I haven’t heard anything about the algae problem in awhile.  I’ve seen dozens of beautiful photos taken there over the last couple months.  It’s there waiting for you.  There is still plenty of construction to talk about.

Please comment below if anything you see here is inaccurate or if there is anything I should add.  I try to stay up-to-date on things but occasionally fall behind. I update the information and photos throughout the quarter.

CURRENT PROJECTS

Photo taken December 23, 2012

Photo taken December 23, 2012

1. The Washington Monument (UPDATED)- There’s been some movement on this project, but not for the better.  The Monument suffered damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  It took awhile to diagnose exactly what happened, but the damage was quite extensive. You can see the extent of the  damage in an interactive tool hosted by the Washington Post.  Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: HIGH – Construction materials have started to pile up around the base of the Monument and, of course, there are still the fences.  If you’re taking long distance photos or one’s that don’t include the base you’re still alright, but the scaffolding will be going up soon.  I’ve read articles saying that the current construction project will look similar to these photos from the last renovation in 1999, so there may be some cool, unique photo opportunities. The observation deck is closed and it is a unique place, offering views of DC that you can’t get anywhere else.  The Old Post Office Clock Tower offers the closest approximation but it’s just not the same.
  • Expected Completion: 2014- The National Park service recently named a contractor to lead the repair job.  This article from the Washington Post details some of what the repairs will entail and the timeline.  The renovations were expected to start by mid-November and are expected to last for 12-18 months.  It’s hard to say whether renovations have actually started yet.  The clock is ticking.

______________________________________________________________

2. Washington National Cathedral - No change here.  The Cathedral also took a hit in the earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof.  The interior is now open to the public and there is scaffolding around the exterior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, the equipment, scaffolding, and fencing makes this a poor time to go.  You can still get unobstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but the side is not picturesque (see photo below).  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but netting spans the ceiling of the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris (see photo below). As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well.  There are a lot of opportunities for detail shots or photos in the smaller rooms, but when I was there recently I left feeling disappointed because of so many of my photos included the netting in the main sanctuary.  If you want to see some amazing, religious-oriented architecture, check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception or the Franciscan Monastery of DC instead.
  • Expected Completion: 2021 – That’s right, it could take as many as 10 years to complete all the renovations.  The stonework is very intricate and the stream of funding to make the repairs isn’t constant.  Talented photographer and Cathedral docent Chris Budny told me that it is likely things will be finished in stages.  The timeline is just too long to know what will be done first or give an exact date.

          

Photo taken April 29, 2012                       Photo taken December 29, 2012  

______________________________________________________________

3. The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court building has been undergoing restoration work for years now, but until recently that work has stayed to the less visually interesting North and South sides.  Scaffolding has covered the more picturesque West side of the building for months.

  • Impact: HIGH - Scaffolding now covers the entire West side of the building.  A “scrim” has been put up over the scaffolding, which limits the eyesore a bit, but it feels like you’re taking a picture of a picture.  Work is also being done on the sidewalk in front of the building, which limits the angles from which you can take pictures of the scrim.  You can still take unobstructed photos inside the building.
  • Expected Completion: TBD – Articles I’ve read about this restoration effort don’t mention the timeline.  These things generally take longer than you think they should take.  My guess is that this will take at least a year, putting the estimated completion time somewhere in mid-2013.  I’ll keep you updated.
    SC Const 02           SC Const
    Photos taken December 18, 2012

 ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken December 18, 2012

Photo taken December 18, 2012

4. The National Mall (UPDATED) – It’s done!!  There used to be fences, construction equipment, filling up a 4-5 block stretch of the National Mall.  This construction added better drainage, installed large cisterns that collect drained water, among other things.  For the time being, it is complete.  Unless something changes between now and April, I will scratch this off the list for the next Construction Update.

  • Impact: NONE- The fences came down prior to the inauguration and the grass in the renovated area looks nice.  There is also edging around the grassy areas.  There are still shorter fences at different points along the Mall but they won’t cause you as much grief as the construction equipment and piles of dirt did here.  There will likely be more construction along the Mall but who knows what will happen with that given the current budget situation.
  • Expected Completion: Done – I feel vindicated in my prediction for the timing of this.  About a week before the Inauguration the fences started coming down.  The NPS took great pains to protect the patches of grass by putting down mats for the inaugural clouds.

 ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken December 21, 2012

Photo taken December 18, 2012

5. The U.S. Capitol (UPDATED) – The area to the West of the Capitol (the West Front) has been closed off since October to allow for Inauguration preparation and cleanup.  It is now almost complete.

  • Impact: LOW -  The area immediately to the West of the Capitol is still closed off.  I walked around the Capitol today (Feb, 28th) and crews were taking down some of the temporary fencing.  All of the trucks, trailers, construction equipment, and so forth wreaked having on the grass and that will likely take some time to fix.
  • Expected Completion: March 2013 – Things look pretty well wrapped up.  I’d imagine it won’t be more than a couple weeks until visitors can walk along the whole West side of the Capitol again, which is a relief because there are some beautiful flowering trees there that will start blooming sometime around the end of March.  Over the next couple months there will likely be extensive work on the landscaping and possibly some fencing to keep people off of it, but that usually isn’t too onerous.
    ______________________________________________________________
Photo taken December 28, 2012

Photo taken December 28, 2012

6. Union Station – The exterior is getting better, the interior is getting worse. The city of Washington, DC has embarked on a long-term restoration of the area immediately in front of Union Station. The interior is also undergoing repair for damage suffered during the earthquake.

  • Impact: HIGH- The exterior construction is starting to wind down and is expected to be completed by mid-February.  It is now possible to get photos of the front of the Station without construction equipment or cones.  The interior is cluttered with scaffolding.  There are also nets hanging across the entire main hall to protect people from falling bits of plaster.  All of this makes for less than desirable photography.
  • Expected Completion: Exterior: March, 2013- Signage in front of Union Station gives a completion date of mid-February.  It always takes a bit longer than planned. Interior: late 2013 – early 2014- It’s hard to say but judging by the amount of scaffolding it looks like there’s still a lot of work to be done.  Once the restoration work is complete there are several additional construction projects scheduled for the Main Hall, meaning it may be several years before the interior is ready to photograph.

______________________________________________________________

7. The National Museum of African American History and Culture - The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2015, is now just an open construction lot.

  • Impact: LOW – The reason I bring this up here is because I’ve gotten several great pictures of the Washington Monument during twilight from the place that is now fenced off for construction. At this point the museum is a gigantic hole in the ground.  It doesn’t really interfere with photos.
  • Expected Completion: 2015 – The museum is expected to be completed in 2015. I can’t tell from the drawings of the building whether there will still be a nice, unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from it’s grounds. But the museum itself will be a great photography subject.

UPCOMING PROJECTS

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – Shortly after the opening of the Memorial in August 2011, there was some controversy over one of the quotes carved into the side of the MLK statue that serves as the Memorial’s centerpiece.  It was finally decided that the quote would simply be scrubbed off the side of the statue.  This process is expected to start in February, 2013 and since their is no need to carve anything back into the stone, I don’t think it should take more than a couple weeks.

2. Constitution Gardens and the Washington MonumentThe Trust for the National Mall recently solicited design proposals for several areas along the National Mall, namely the area to the North of the Reflecting Pool known as Constitution Gardens and a theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.  Winning designs have been selected but it is unclear how soon construction will begin, what it’s impact will be, and how long it will take.

3. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  Construction hasn’t started yet, but this Memorial is supposed to go up in an area to the South of the National Botanic Gardens.  It is out of the way and won’t likely get in the way of your photos but it’s worth keeping in mind as a photo location in a year or two when it’s complete.

4. Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial – A new memorial has been in the works for President Eisenhower for years now, but disagreements amongst the principal decision-makers (the architect, the family, contributors, etc.) over what is should look like have kept things from moving forward.

5. Old Post Office – Donald Trump bid for the rights to turn this national treasure into a gaudy hotel. Really it would benefit from any renovations that happen.  The interior is pretty said.  This project isn’t expected to start until 2015 and still has several procedural hurdles to jump through but I thought it couldn’t hurt my SEO to get The Donald’s name onto one of my webpages.

Construction Report: October – December 2012

October 1, 2012

A Phototourism DC reader wrote to me shortly after I started this site and asked whether the amount of construction at popular sites around town would make a trip to DC disappointing.  I thought that idea would make a great addition to this blog.  After four iterations of the Construction Report, it is now one of my most popular articles; with 2,471 total pageviews across the four articles (or nearly 11% of all pageviews).

This is the fifth installment of this series and I finally get to say that a construction project is complete (well, sort of).  Several projects are finishing up, others are getting underway, and one pesky problem just can’t seem to get out of the way.

Please comment below if anything you see here is inaccurate or if there is anything I should add.  I try to stay up-to-date on things but occasionally fall behind. I update the information and photos in the Construction Report posts throughout the quarter.

CURRENT PROJECTS

1. The Washington Monument - No change, but developments are coming soon.  The Monument suffered damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  It took awhile to diagnose exactly what happened, but the damage was quite extensive. You can see the extent of the  damage in an interactive tool hosted by the Washington Post.  Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: MEDIUM – There are still plenty of angles to get pictures of the exterior of the Monument, though the fence surrounding the base may show up in some of your closer ones.  Also, the observation deck is a unique place, offering views that you can’t get anywhere else (like the one on the right).  The Old Post Office Clock Tower offers the closest approximation but it’s just not the same. Once renovations start, cranes, scaffolding, and other equipment will litter the view. I’ve read articles saying that the current construction project will look similar to these photos from the last renovation in 1999, so there may be some cool, unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: 2014- The National Park service recently named a contractor to lead the repair job.  This article from the Washington Post details some of what the repairs will entail and the timeline.  The renovations are expected to start this Fall (by mid-November) and will continue for 12-18 months.
    ______________________________________________________________

2. Washington National Cathedral - No change here.  I haven’t been back since April, so I’m not sure how far along things have come.  Once I get there, I’ll update this section.  The Cathedral also took a hit in the earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof.  The interior is now open to the public and there is scaffolding around the exterior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, the equipment, scaffolding, and fencing makes this a poor time to go.  You can still get unobstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but the side is not picturesque (see photo below).  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but netting spans the ceiling of the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris (see photo below). As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well. There are other places in the Cathedral to take photos, and if there weren’t a better alternative I’d be tempted to give it a MEDIUM rating, but if you only have a short time you should check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead.
  • Expected Completion: Phototourism DC reader, talented photographer, and Cathedral docent Chris Budny filled me in (see his comments) on the timeline for these repairs awhile back.  I haven’t seen an update since.  The exterior of the Cathedral will be in various states of disrepair for the next 10 YEARS!  The interior work will also likely take years.  The Cathedral is still open but unobstructed wide-angle shots will be tough to come by.

          

Photos taken April 1st, 2012
______________________________________________________________

3. The Reflecting Pool - The Pool is finally complete!!!  After being shut down for nearly a year and a half the Reflecting Pool was reopened on August 31st. Judging by the search traffic on this site, PhotoTourism DC readers have been eagerly anticipating this for awhile.

  • Impact: LOW - Though the Reflecting Pool was completed and a new filtration was installed, an infestation of algae has developed.  It lines the bottom of the Pool for the most part, but in places (particularly at the East end near the WWII Memorial) large islands of green sludge float on the surface.  Also, one unintended consequence of the new filtration system seems to be constantly moving water within the Pool.  This limits the reflectivness of the Reflecting Pool.  Despite this, there are still some great photos to be had of the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial that include the Reflecting Pool.
  • Expected Completion: TBDIn an article in the Washington Post, the National Park Service says they are still investigating the best ways to deal with the problem and are periodically skimming the algae that floats to the surface.  I have not seen a timeline for solving the problem however.
    ______________________________________________________________

4. The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court building has been undergoing restoration work for years now, but until recently that work has stayed to the less visually interesting North and South sides.  Within the last couple months, scaffolding has popped up along the entire West (front) side of the building.

  • Impact: HIGH - Scaffolding now covers the entire West side of the building.  A “scrim” has been put up over the scaffolding that covers the windows, which limits the eyesore a bit, but the scaffolding covering the front columns and stairs is stil bare and unsightly.
  • Expected Completion: TBD – Articles I’ve read about this restoration effort don’t mention the timeline.  These things generally take longer than you think they should take.  My guess is that this will take at least a year, putting the estimated completion time somewhere in mid-2013.  I’ll keep you updated.
             
    Photos taken September 23, 2012

 ______________________________________________________________

5. The National Mall – It’s improving, but still not done.  In addition to the normal turf restoration that goes on during the winter months there is also a more extensive project laying of sewer and draining pipes. There are fences blocking off the Mall from 3rd St. near the Capitol down to the Smithsonian Castle (basically the area shown in the Washington Monument picture above).

  • Impact: HIGH- The construction zone looks just like that, a construction zone; piles of dirt, construction equipment, and fencing. About half of the construction has been wrapped up and sod has been laid down, though fences are still up.  Photos down the National Mall either of, or from, the Capitol include this eyesore.
  • Expected Completion: December, 2012 – Signs posted on the fences surrounding the construction zone say the project will continue through December 2012.  While these projects usually extend past their normal deadlines, this one is running up against a hard deadline of the Inauguration on January 21st.  That area of the National Mall will need to be ready to receive several hundred thousand pairs of feet.

 ______________________________________________________________

6. The U.S. Capitol – After a month without construction, the Capitol is back at it.  Nearly the entire West (National Mall) facing side has been closed off to allow for Inauguration preparations, including the construction of a giant platform that is expected to take 3 months.

  • Impact: MEDIUM -  I rated this a MEDIUM because the East side of the Capitol is still available for unobstructed photos.  The West side, however, is largely blocked off.  You can still take pictures from the West lawn or from the Capitol reflecting pool but these views are obstructed with scaffolding, fencing, port-a-potties, and construction equipment.  This will only get worse over the next couple months.  I’ve never been around DC for an Inauguration, but I’d bet the area blocked off on the West side of the Capitol will become larger as the Inauguration approaches.  Once the platform is constructed, there will likely be a week or two of (relatively) unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: March 2013 – Inauguration preparations will continue right up to January 21st, I’m sure.  After that, the platform will need to be deconstructed.  In the video below from the Architect of the Capitol, they describe the process of construction and deconstruction, both of which are methodical processes.
    ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken July 6, 2012

7. Union Station – No change. The city of Washington, DC has embarked on a long-term restoration of the area immediately in front of Union Station. The interior is also undergoing repair for damage suffered during the earthquake.

  • Impact: HIGH- The exterior construction is starting to wind down but still occupies most of Columbus Circle.  The interior is highly cluttered with scaffolding.  There are also nets hanging across the entire main hall to protect people from falling bits of plaster.  All of this makes for less than desirable photography.
  • Expected Completion: Exterior: 2013- References to this construction in newspapers have referred to this as a 2-year construction process and it began in August of 2011. Interior: several months at least – It’s hard to say but judging by the amount of scaffolding it looks like there’s still a lot of work to be done.  Once the restoration work is complete there are several additional construction projects scheduled for the Main Hall, meaning it may be several years before the interior is ready to photograph.

______________________________________________________________

8. The National Museum of African American History and Culture - The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2015, is now just an open construction lot.

  • Impact: LOW – The reason I bring this up here is because I’ve gotten several great pictures of the Washington Monument during twilight (see picture on the right) from the place that is now fenced off for construction. There are plenty of other great places to take picture of the Washington Monument though.
  • Expected Completion: The museum is expected to be completed in 2015. I can’t tell from the drawings of the building whether there will still be a nice, unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from it’s grounds. But there will be plenty of new sights to photograph.

UPCOMING PROJECTS

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial – Shortly after the opening of the Memorial in August 2011, there was some controversy over one of the quotes carved into the side of the MLK statue that serves as the Memorial’s centerpiece.  It was finally decided to fix it.  From the sounds of it, everything will be done at the Memorial.  My guess is scaffolding will be set up and a tarp will be placed over, at least, one side of the statue.  This is expected to start sometime in Fall 2012 and be completed by MLK Day, January 21st, 2013.

2. Constitution Gardens and the Washington MonumentThe Trust for the National Mall recently solicited design proposals for several areas along the National Mall, namely the area to the North of the Reflecting Pool known as Constitution Gardens and a theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.  Winning designs have been selected but it is unclear how soon construction will begin, what it’s impact will be, and how long it will take.

3. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  This Memorial is supposed to go up relatively soon in an area to the South of the National Botanic Gardens.  It is out of the way and won’t likely get in the way of your photos but it’s worth keeping in mind as a photo location in a year or two when it’s complete.

Photographing the Library of Congress

September 9, 2012

I never developed a taste for the finer things; I eat simple foods, I drive a mundane car, and my apartment is sparsely decorated.  I’m a simple guy, but that doesn’t stop me from becoming absolutely giddy when I see the magnificent interior of the Library of Congress.  Intricately carved statues, tile mosaics, and amazing artwork cover every wall, floor, and ceiling. Every surface in that building is photographable.  Buildings, at least those open to the public, just aren’t built like this anymore.

I wrote an earlier post about the Reading Room Open House that is conducted twice a year.  This article covers the rest of the Library’s Jefferson Building (the Library is made up of 3 buildings).

When to Go

There is a lot of intricate detail to photograph in the Library, and people won’t get in your way for that; meaning you can go pretty much anytime. However, if you want sweeping shots of the Great Hall (see below), then you should go early.  The Library opens at 8:30a.m., and it isn’t long before larger crowds start to form.

You can also coordinate your trip with a tour of the U.S. Capitol.  There is an underground tunnel that connects the Library with the Capitol Visitor’s Center. This is especially nice in the case of really hot, really cold, or inclement weather.  If you go to the Capitol first, you won’t have to go through security if you take the tunnel over to the Library.  If you go into the Library first, however, you’ll have to go through security again.  After going through security 5-10 times in a day, finding ways to decrease the number of times you have to put your belongings into a bowl is nice.

I haven’t seen monthly visitor statistics for the Library, but I’m sure that, like the rest of Washington, DC, traffic in the Library peaks between April and July and drops off considerably during the late Fall and Winter months.  The Library is a great place to spend a cold winter or a hot summer day.

 Photographic Possibilities

- The Great Hall -

The centerpiece of the Library is the Great Hall.  As you enter the Library on the first floor you take a left and walk into a 3-story high atrium.  The ceiling and skylight in the Great Hall are spectacular and colorful.  This is where I spend most of my time and energy when photographing the Library.  You can stand in the center of the Hall and frame a nice, symmetrical photo of just the ceiling.  I enjoy these “look up” photos and have a collection of beautiful skylights and murals around DC.

It’s preferable to include a foreground object to add a point of interest for your photos.  There are two woman statues that sit on either side of the Great Hall that seem placed for just this purpose.  In fact, one of the most common compositions for a photo of the Library, and one I often see in their promotional materials is one like the photos below.  While this photo is common, it is difficult to do “correctly.”  The photos below were taken about a year apart as my skills progressed and I spent more time composing my photos.  You want to expose for the light levels on the ceiling/skylight but focus on the statue to ensure that the silhouette is sharp.  Since both the ceiling and the statue have amazing detail you should try to use the smallest aperture you can and still take photos handheld.  Don’t be afraid to sit down briefly to steady your camera.  Finally, with the broad range of light I have had the best success with using HDR when photographing the ceiling of the Great Hall.

                 

    My first attempt                                                     After some practice

The Great Hall is flanked by marble staircases.  The banisters of the staircases are covered in carvings of babies.  Once you get over the oddity of the carvings, they make spectacular photographic subjects. The statues are carved to represent different ethnicities, so make your way around to see all of the ethnic (and photographic) diversity.

        

Finally, the floor of the Great Hall is a showpiece of the room as well.  Also composed of marble, the floor has excellent texture and is ringed by symbols of the Zodiac.  The best photos of the floor can be taken from the mezzanine level of the Great Hall.

The entire Hall is magnificent; from the ceiling, to the statues, to the staircases, to the floor.  I often thought that it is a shame it can’t all be included in a single photo.  Then I started working more with panoramas and vertoramas. In these types of photos, you stitch multiple photos together into a single image.  I’ve gotten several great, floor-to-ceiling photos of the Great Hall using this technique.  The final product can be a little busy because there is so much to look at in one photo, but I like this.  People have to stop and think about the photo and look around at the different details, much like they would in the Library itself.

               

 - First Floor Hallways -

Three sides of the Great Hall’s first level are accessible (the fourth side is the entrance where you pass through security).  You’ll see one of these sides as you first come in and it houses the visitors’ desk.  Another side houses two, massive Bibles which you can photograph, but flash photography is not allowed.  The third side is just an open hallway that circles you back to the Great Hall.  Most of what is worth photographing here is not at eye level, you have to look up.  The ceilings are covered with beautiful tile mosaics.

- Second Floor Mezzanine -

Much like the hallways on the first floor, the second floor mezzanine is covered with great artwork.  The nature of the artwork on the second floor is slightly different however.  Here, paintings and quotes cover the walls and ceiling.  All four sides are accessible and look down over the Great Hall.

               

The second floor also has two exhibition halls; Thomas Jefferson’s Library and Latin American artifacts.  Photography is prohibited in both of these halls.

- The Exterior -

The highlight of the Library of Congress is definitely its interior.  Though the exterior is impressive, I have had little luck taking high quality photos of it.  The West-facing (Capitol) side is certainly the most photo-worthy, but issues with tripod use and a tight space for taking photos due to trees and roads makes it especially difficult.  If you are taking photos of the exterior of the Library, I recommend including either the dome and golden torch on top or the Trevi-like fountain located at street-level.

          

 What to Bring

Lens: There is a wide variety of photographic subjects in the Library of Congress. Some, like the decorative carvings on the banisters in the Great Hall, you can get fairly close to. Others, like the angels statues on the beautiful ceiling, you may want to zoom in on.  For this reason I recommend bringing a lens with a wide zoom range (DX: 18-135mm; FX: 27-200mm).   Even 18mm may be limiting for wide-angle photos or the vertoramas described earlier, however. That’s why I also recommend bringing a wide-angle lens (< 18mm; < 27mm) for interior photos.  The interior of the Library is very dim so, in addition to focal length, also consider the maximum aperture of your lens.  If you have, or can rent, a lens with an f/2.8 aperture, I highly recommend bringing it.

Tripod: The Library of Congress does allow people to use a tripod if they get permission first. I’ve seen people using them.  I have asked at the visitors’ desk several times how one would get permission without getting a straight answer.  I would count on not being able to use a tripod while in the Library.  I’ll look into this more carefully in the upcoming months and try to offer better advice.

Flash: Though it is a Library, no reading goes on in the places described in this post so the staff at the Library of Congress are comfortable with people using a flash.  The exceptions to this are the areas around the Bibles on the first floor.  These areas are prominently marked.  In the rest of the Great Hall, however, you may find it helpful to have a hot-shoe flash with a diffuser to provide some much needed, but not intense, light.

Filters: You can leave the filters at home or at the hotel.  There isn’t much need for filters inside the Library and light is already hard to come by.  Adding a filter that will drop you two or more f-stops will make handheld pictures nearly impossible.

Bag: I’ve always carried a medium-sized bag into the Library.  I don’t believe there are any restrictions on bag size so you could bring a backpack if you were heading elsewhere before or after.  If you’re planning on coordinating the trip with a tour of the Capitol though, I would stick to medium or small; something large enough to carry your camera and a couple lenses.

Additional Resources

  • Library of Congress Visitor’s Website – It’s always a good idea to check the official website of a place before visiting.  You’ll find the most up-to-date information about events, hours of operation, etc.
  • PhotoTourism DC Resources – Tools for making the most out of this site.
    • Construction Update – Check the most recent Construction Update (updated quarterly) to see if there are any construction projects that may cause interference with your photo adventure.
    • Event Calendar – Check to see if there are any events going on around this location that may lead to unique photo opportunities, or just get in your way.
    • Map – See all of the photogenic locations in DC plotted on a map to help you plan your next photo adventure.
  • Tutorials at Brandonkopp.com – In my time taking photos around DC, I’ve picked up some skills and techniques you might find helpful.  For the Library of Congress in particular, check out the lessons on panoramic stitchinglens correction, and HDR.
  • Historical Resources – I intentionally go light on the historical background of the sights I feature on PhotoTourism DC.  History is not my strong suit, or my passion.  I’ll leave that to the professionals or at least those who want to take the time to write.
    • DC Like a Local – A local tour guide gives great logistical information for visiting the Library of Congress.
    • Wikipedia – A comprehensive read about the Library of Congress if you are so inclined.

Photographing the Interior of the U.S. Capitol

July 31, 2012

If you were to ask me, “What is the one thing I should photograph in Washington, DC?” I would say without hesitation, the U.S. Capitol Building.  It is, by far, my favorite photo location and nothing is more quintessentially Washington. It took me several months to discover this, but the interior of the Capitol is as amazing as its exterior.  I was intimidated about going into the Capitol because I didn’t know what to expect or how to arrange a tour.  If you have the same concerns, I will attempt to put you at ease with this article.  A tour of the Capitol is a definite must-see for photographers visiting DC.

Before I get into the usual PhotoTourism DC details, I’ll give you a few pieces of information specific to visiting the Capitol that you’ll want to know.

- Scheduling a Tour-

You have several options for getting scheduled for a tour.  (1) You can arrange a tour by calling or visiting the website of your state’s Senators or your district’s Representative.  Different offices handle this differently.  Some will offer a staff-led tour and some will simply schedule you for the regular tour.  Your Congressperson’s office can also get you a floor pass for the House or Senate Chamber, but there is no photography allowed in either.  (2) Your second option is to arrange the tour yourself by going to the Capitol Visitor Center website and filling out their online form. For Options 1 & 2, you will be given a day and time to show up; tours start about every 20 minutes.  (3) Finally, you can just drop into the Capitol Visitor Center and try to get walk-in tickets.  There are a limited number of these tickets available, but 2 of the 3 times I’ve toured the Capitol I’ve gone this route and have had no trouble getting tickets.  In fact, I walked in and got tickets for a tour group starting right away; no waiting around.  The smaller your group the easier it will be to get walk-in tickets.

You can visit the Capitol Visitor Center any time, even without a reservation for a tour.  There is a cool, though small, museum that shows the history of the Capitol Building. Note: To protect the documents, photography is not allowed in the exhibition hall.

- The Tour Itself-

Tours of the Capitol last a little over an hour and are guided.  That is, you and about 30 people will follow a tour guide who will give you great information about the history of the Capitol.  You will get a headset that is tuned into the frequency of your tour guide’s microphone so they don’t have to shout at you.  There are a dozen or more, 30-person tours going on simultaneously so there will be hundreds of people you have to jockey with to get photos.  You can’t wander too far from your tour group, though you shouldn’t feel like you’re stuck in a certain place either.  When I’ve been on the tour, I’ve been comfortable moving around big open spaces like the Rotunda to get into a better position for photos.  Just be sure that you (1) stay within radio range of your tour guide so you know when they are moving the group to a new location, (2) remember what your tour guide looks like so you can find your group amongst the dozens of others, and (3) be respectful and stay out of the way of the other tour groups.

When to Go

-Time of Day-

Regular guided tours are offered Monday – Saturday; 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (last tour starts at 3:20 p.m.).  Congressional staff-led tours may follow a different schedule.  I always suggest getting to places early if you want to avoid crowds, but it’s hard to say with the Capitol tours.  If there is a tour scheduled for 8:30, then the people that are ticketed will be there.  If you’re trying to get walk-in tickets then earlier is always going to be better.  They may not be able to get you into the first round of tours but they can get you a ticket for some later time and you can come back.

-Time of Year-

I generally recommend people visit Washington, DC in the Fall (September – November).  The temperatures are pleasant and there are fewer people.  This applies to Capitol tours as well.  Not only are there fewer people to contend with during the “off-season,” but the tour itself is different.  Below I’ll describe some of the areas that you don’t get to see on the regular “on-season” tour.  I asked a tour guide why the tour changes sometimes and she said that, when it’s busy, there are too many people to take into some areas of the Capitol.  She didn’t say what months specifically, but April – August are peak tourism months around DC.  Coming outside of that time will probably be your best bet.

You might also find it interesting to plan your trip for a time when Congress is in session.  That way you can get in to see debates, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, but there is also the potential of seeing the Congressmen and women wandering through the Capitol.  Schedules for the House and Senate are published in advance, but change depending on deadlines and procrastination.

Photographic Possibilities

A tour of the Capitol starts with a video called “Out of Many, One” (E Pluribus Unum for my Latin-speaking readers) that describes the history of Capitol construction and highlights major pieces of legislation that were passed there.  It lasts about 20 minutes and I think it’s fantastic. No photo opportunities there though.

After the movie, the theater full of people is divided up into tour groups.  You’re given a headset and begin the tour.  The “usual” tour consists of 3 parts; the Crypt, the Rotunda, and Statuary Hall.  I will describe each of these and then some of the less common areas on the tour.

-The Crypt-

From the Visitor Center you take an escalator to the Crypt level of the Capitol.  This a large circular room with columns dispersed throughout.  This is where George Washington was supposed to be buried which is why they call it the Crypt.  Aside from the columns, another noteworthy feature of the room is the marble “compass stone” at the room’s center.  This is what divides DC into NE, NW, SE, and SW quadrants (helpful to know when you’re trying to get around town).  These tidbits, about George Washington and the compass stone, are examples of the interesting info you get while on the tour.  So while you’re taking your photos don’t forget to listen to your tour guide.

  • Despite the size of the room the columns make the space feel claustrophobic.  You have to be patient and look for an opportunity to take a photo that isn’t filled with people.
  • If you’re using automatic white balance, be sure to check your first couple photos. I was using automatic white balance when I took the photos below and you can see that the one on the left turned out yellow. The one on the right was the same but I converted it to black and white and that helped.

          

-The Rotunda-

After the crypt you walk up a long staircase into the Capitol Rotunda.  The Rotunda is one of the most impressive indoor spaces I’ve ever been in.  It ranks up there with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel; and it incorporates impressive design elements of these amazing rooms.  It is an imposing room, 96 feet across and 180 feet high, capped with a mural covered dome.

Many of the photos you take in this room will be pointed upward.  That’s good because this is the heart and soul of the Capitol tour and, at eye level, the room is full of people.  The dome itself is quite impressive.  You have your choice here of taking a narrowly focus photo of the mural, The Apotheosis of Washington, or a wide-angle photo that incorporates the whole dome.  Given these wide-ranging photo opportunities, I’d recommend having a zoom lens with a broad focal range (e.g., I use an 18-200 mm).

          

To provide a point of visual interest for the foreground of your photos there are statues that line the periphery of the room.  The most iconic (read: the least creative) photo in this room is the one below on the left with the statue of George Washington in the foreground and the dome in the background.  You’ll find this photo on promotional materials for the Capitol and you’ll see it in the video at the beginning of the tour.  I like retaking iconic photos because (1) I own that photo and can make prints of it if I want and (2) there are a number of other people’s versions for me to compare my own against.  For those of you that are interested, here are a couple tips for taking this photo.

  • Narrow your aperture as small as you can get it and still get sharp photos using your camera handheld.  This way the statue and the mural on the dome will both be in focus.
  • Zoom in as much as possible.  This may require sitting on the floor (make it quick before someone tells you to get up).  By zooming in, the dome appears larger relative to the statue.

                    

None of these photos show the true, awe-inspiring size of the room.  That’s why, recently, I went back to the Capitol with my wide-angle lens and took a series of vertoramas (vertical panoramas).  I wanted to see if I could capture everything from the floor to the ceiling in one photo and I was very happy with the results.  While the photo above (on the right) is actually a combination of 12 photos, it demonstrates what it feels like to stand in that room better than any single photo I could take.  For more information on how I make panoramas and vertoramas, view my (free) tutorial.

If you’d like to get a better feel for the room before visiting, take this virtual tour of the Capitol Rotunda on the Architect of the Capitol website.

-Statuary Hall-

The final leg of the tour is through Statuary Hall, which was the old chamber for the House of Representatives.  The centerpiece of this room is, once again, the ceiling, however it is much lower than the ceiling in the Rotunda.  This makes it difficult to get the whole thing in a single frame.  Another part of the fun in this room is finding the statue of a hero from your home state (each state gets two statues placed somewhere in the Capitol and most of them are in this room).  The relatively small area and number of people become an issue with eye-level photos.

               

-Off-Season and Other Tours-

Last year, I toured the Capitol shortly before New Year’s, when the crowds were sparse.  I had just learned about HDR and wanted to try it out at the Capitol.  To my surprise, I got to see a bit more than I had the time I’d went before.  My tour group took a little side trip while on the same level as the Crypt to see the old Supreme Court chambers (below left) and the small but impressive Senate Rotunda (below right).

          

One other thing that I’ve wanted to do, but have not yet done, is take a tour of the Capitol Dome.  In these tours, you get to walk around the interior of the Dome (180 feet above the Rotunda floor) and stand directly beneath the Apotheosis of Washington mural.  You also get to stand on the outside of the Dome, beneath the statue of Freedom that sits on top of the Capitol, and look out over Washington.  These tours are a little trickier to get than the regular Capitol tour.  These have to be arranged through your Congressperson’s office and, from my understanding, your Senator or Representative has to accompany you for the tour.  It’s worth asking though.  From the photos I’ve seen, this is an amazing opportunity.

What to Bring

Lens:  I recommend using a lens with a broad zoom range (DX format: 18-135 mm, FX: 27-200 mm) or a wide-angle lens (< 18 mm, <27 mm).  I talked earlier about the pros and cons of these types of lenses. If you have them, you might be tempted to bring both and swap out as necessary.  Unless you are very skilled at swapping your lenses at the fly, I wouldn’t recommend it.  The tour moves fast enough and there are enough people to make this process cumbersome.  Below is a comparison of 11 and 18mm focal lengths, taken with a DX format camera.  If all else fails, you can always get walk-in tickets and go back through.

Tripod: Don’t bring it. You won’t be able to use it so you can leave it at home or at your hotel room.  They will let you bring a tripod on the tour as long as you carry it in such a way that it won’t bump into anything.  So if you are planning on going somewhere before or afterward where you’ll want a tripod you can bring it along.

Flash: Don’t bring it. I’m not a big fan of using the flash.  There are some areas where it could be useful (the Crypt, for example) but there is enough light in the Rotunda and Statuary Hall that you can take photos handheld without a problem.

Filters: There is no need for filters, at least not how I ordinarily use them.  The lighting situation is pretty straightforward.

Bag: A small or medium size bag should do the trick.  Large bags aren’t allowed into the Capitol, but bags large enough to hold your camera, some lenses, and a few accessories are allowed. So bring what you think you’ll need not only for the Capitol but for some of the nearby sites (e.g., the Library of Congress).

Additional Resources

  • Capitol Visitor Center – I gave you a lot of information here, but you can get it straight from the horse’s mouth by going to the Visitor Center’s website.
  • PhotoTourism DC Resources – Tools for making the most out of this site.
    • Construction Update – Check the most recent Construction Update (updated quarterly) to see if there are any construction projects that may cause interference with your photo adventure.
    • Event Calendar – Check to see if there are any events going on around this location that may lead to unique photo opportunities, or just get in your way.
    • Map – See all of the photogenic locations in DC plotted on a map to help you plan your next photo adventure.
  • Tutorials at Brandonkopp.com – In my time taking photos around DC, I’ve picked up some skills and techniques you might find helpful.  For the Capitol in particular, check out the lessons on panoramic stitchinglens correction, and HDR.
  • Historical Resources – I intentionally go light on the historical background of the sights I feature on PhotoTourism DC.  History is not my strong suit, or my passion.  I’ll leave that to the professionals.  Here are some great resources for local history.
    • DC Like a Local – A local tour guide gives great logistical information for visiting the Capitol.
    • Wikipedia – Someone (or some people) put a lot of work into this post about the history of the Capitol. I can’t/don’t vouch for all of it’s contents but it’s an entertaining read.

Summary

What:          The Interior of the U.S. Capitol

Where:        Entrance is on the East Side of the U.S. Capitol

When:          8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (last tour starts at 3:20 p.m.) Monday – Saturday

                 ____________________________

Lens:            Telephoto (DX: 18-135mm; FX: 27-200mm) or Wide-Angle (< 18mm; < 27mm)

Tripod:        Don’t Bring It

Flash:           Don’t Bring It

Filter:           Don’t Bring Them

Bag:              Small or Medium

Photographing the DC World War I Memorial

July 27, 2012

I’ve written seven location-based posts for PhotoTourism DC, and have concentrated on the must-see attractions of Washington, DC; the Capitol, the White House, and the memorials along the National Mall.  After all, those are probably the reason you’re coming to DC in the first place.  I figured it was about time I shared a “hidden gem” with you; a beautiful location that’s not necessarily out of the way, but something that you might overlook as you hurriedly collect up your camera gear and scramble between locations.

I walked by The District of Columbia World War I Memorial dozens of times before I finally stopped.  It wasn’t until I saw news reports about it in late 2011, that I even recognized its existence.  You’ll notice I refer to it as the DC WWI Memorial.  That’s because it is, in fact, dedicated the citizens of the District who died during the Great War; there is no national WWI Memorial. And that was the reason for all of the news stories.  The Memorial underwent restoration in 2010-2011 and had been closed off.  As it reopened, Congress must have noticed some of the stories too and floated the idea of dedicating it as a national memorial.  DC citizens, already wary of the federal government imposing its will on the District, made an uproar about it and the idea was shelved as Congress moved onto debt limit and budget battles.

That’s a roundabout way of telling you that this Memorial, in addition to being picturesque, has an interesting story behind it that you can tell through your photos.

When to Go

-Time of Day-

The beauty of the DC WWI Memorial, and of hidden gems in general, is that they’re hidden.  Crowds are not a concern.  In fact, over the several times I’ve visited this Memorial, I have only seen small groups of 2-7 people there, and when they leave there is usually a gap before the next group wonders what this marble gazebo is all about.  I’ve watched people walk by it, see  me with my tripod and camera setting up photos, and then double back thinking that it must be worth checking out if someone is photographing it.

The Memorial is surrounded on 3 sides (North, East, and West) by trees, so it doesn’t get direct sunrise and sunset light, but the white marble does still pick up some color during the golden hours.  The white marble can also be a drawback when trying to take photos of the Memorial in direct, intense lighting.  I’ve had some success with night photos as well.  There are no exterior lights but there are bright lights on the interior of the dome which makes dynamic range an issue.  I take a lot of HDR photos and they are especially helpful in these situations.  HDR is also especially helpful in bringing out the detail (i.e., marbling) in the Memorial.

Since you don’t have to worry about crowds and lighting conditions, you should fit the WWI Memorial into your schedule after you have planned out your other stops.  The Memorial is located amongst the Lincoln, Martin Luther King, WWII, and Korean War Memorials.  Once you’ve set your itinerary for sunrise, sunset, etc. at these other locations, work the WWI Memorial somewhere in between.

-Time of Year-

Including trees in your photos of the Memorial is unavoidable, so months where there are leaves on the trees (late March – mid-November) are your best bet for quality photos.  The National Mall is a great place to see Fall color and the WWI Memorial should definitely be one of your stops.

Photographic Possibilities

Given its small size and tight location, there are limited angles from which to photograph the Memorial.  What you see in the map below is what you get.  The Google Earth imagery was a bit out of date and showed a lot more trees then are currently there.  I covered them up with the green squares as best I could.

Click on the Image to See A Larger Version

- The Exterior – 

You have access to the full 360 degress of the exterior.  The problem is that on the East and West sides, the trees will prevent you from backing up far enough to use some focal lengths.  On the sides you will need much wider angles.  The North (1) and South (2) sides are the most interesting anyways.  On these sides there are stairs that provide points of visual interest and make the Memorial more inviting.  If you are on the North side, facing South, you may get vehicles Driving along Independence Ave. in your pictures.  For me, tour busses detract from what I’m trying to capture so I wait for breaks in the traffic.

Also on the exterior, just beneath the dome, there is an inscription dedicating the Memorial to the citizens of the District of Columbia (as in the photo at the top of this post; seen from point (1) on the map) who died The World War (as in the photo below and on the left; seen from point (3) on the map)  Since these are the words that tell the story of the Memorial, I try to include one or the other of these phrases in my photos of the exterior. These phrases are on opposite sides of the Memorial so you can’t include both.

Finally, the Memorial is a great place to take portraits or do some self-photography.  I, sometimes, get self-conscious if I set up my tripod to get photos of myself, but since there are so few people around this Memorial, it is a great place for that.  Columns are the signature design element of Washington, DC.  The beautiful columns on the WWI Memorial give you a chance to take your time, line up some photos, and get some pictures of yourself (or friends and family) that are quintessentially DC.  It’s also nice to add a human element to your photos of the Memorial to give it a sense of scale.

          

- The Interior -

Some of the best photos in DC can be found by looking up.  If colums are the signature design element in DC architecture, the dome is a close runner-up.  The interior of a dome always makes for a nice photo, if you can handle the often difficult lighting conditions.  The WWI Memorial is no different.  The difficult part here is that the Memorial is not particularly tall and getting the whole dome in a single photo is a challenge.  Both of the photos below were taken with a wide-angle lens at 11 mm.  If you don’t have a lens with a focal length that wide, you can also do some panoramic stitching.

          

What to Bring

Lens: A standard zoom lens (DX: 18-135mm, FX: 27-200mm) is sufficient for capturing most photos around the DC WWI Memorial, however some of my favorite photos have been taken with a wide-angle lens (< 18mm; < 27mm). If you have them, I’d recommend you bring both to make the most of the time you’re here.

Tripod: Bring a tripod.  The Memorial is a great place for night and HDR photos.  For these types of photography, I recommend using a tripod.  There are no restrictions on tripods, but if you want to set your tripod on the marble, please be sure it has rubber feet (not metal spikes) and that you don’t slide it from one position to another.

Flash:  You might find it helpful to bring an external flash. As I said earlier, the Memorial is a great, out-of-the-way place for taking portraits.  A hot-shoe flash can help with fill lighting if you are taking pictures of friends or family.  The Memorial is also small enough that a strong flash can help illuminate the exterior to balance the exposure with the interior lights.

Filters: You may find a circular polarizing filter helpful, especially during the day. With the trees you won’t get much sky in your photo, but there will be a lot of green in the grass and other landscaping that can be made richer using the filter.

Bag: There are no bag restrictions for the National Mall.  Given what I’ve recommended as far as equipment to bring, you may want to use a medium or large bag.

Additional Resources

  • PhotoTourism DC Resources – Tools for making the most of out this site.
    • Construction Update – Check the most recent Construction Update (updated quarterly) to see if there are any construction projects that may cause interference with your photo adventure.
    • Event Calendar – Check to see if there are any events going on around this location that may lead to unique photo opportunities, or just get in your way.
    • Map – See all of the photogenic locations in DC plotted on a map to help you plan your next photo adventure.
  • Tutorials at Brandonkopp.com – In my time taking photos around DC, I’ve picked up some skills and techniques you might find helpful.  For the WWI Memorial in particular, check out the lessons on panoramic stitchinglens correction, and HDR.
  • Historical Resources – I intentionally go light on the historical background of the sights I feature on PhotoTourism DC.  History is not my strong suit, or my passion.  I’ll leave that to the professionals.  Here are some great resources for local history.

Summary

What:          The District of Columbia World War I Memorial

Where:        Along Independence Blvd. between the WWII and Korean War Memorials

When:          Anytime

    ____________________________

Lens:            Telephoto (DX: 18-135mm; FX: 27-200mm) & Wide-Angle (< 18mm; < 27mm)

Tripod:       Bring it

Flash:           Bring it

Filter:           Circular Polarizer

Bag:               Any Size

Construction Report: July – September 2012

July 9, 2012

THIS IS NOT THE MOST UP-TO-DATE VERSION. FOR CURRENT INFORMATION LOOK HERE.

A Phototourism DC reader wrote to me a while back and asked whether the amount of construction at popular sites around town would make a trip to DC disappointing.  I thought that idea would make a great addition to this blog.  After three iterations of the Construction Report, it is now one of my most popular articles; with 1553 total pageviews across the three articles (or about 9% of all pageviews).  The most common search engine terms that bring visitors to the site are construction related and specifically related to when the Reflecting Pool project will be finished (see below for details).

This is the fourth installment of this series and there are finally some changes starting to happen.  Several projects are finishing up; others are getting underway.

Please comment below if anything you see here is inaccurate or if there is anything I should add.  I try to stay up-to-date on things but occasionally fall behind. I try to update the information and photos in the Construction Report posts throughout the quarter.

CURRENT PROJECTS

1. The Washington Monument - No change here.  The Monument suffered damage in the August 2011 earthquake.  It took awhile to diagnose exactly what happened, but the damage was quite extensive. Since that day the observation platform at the top has been closed and the area around the base has been fenced off.

  • Impact: MEDIUM – There are still plenty of angles to get pictures of the exterior of the Monument, though the fence surrounding the base may show up in some of your closer ones.  Also, the observation deck is a unique place, offering views that you can’t get anywhere else (like the one on the right).  The Old Post Office Clock Tower offers the closest approximation but it’s just not the same. Once renovations start, cranes, scaffolding, and other equipment will litter the view. Though if it looks like these photos from the last renovation in 1999, there may be some cool, unique photo opportunities.
  • Expected Completion: 2014- In an article published July 9th, The Washington Post reported  that the Monument  was more damaged than previously thought  and will likely be closed through all of 2013.  The renovations are expected to start this Fall.
    ______________________________________________________________

2. Washington National Cathedral - No change here either.  The Cathedral also took a hit in the earthquake, losing some of the spires on the roof.  The interior is now open to the public and there is scaffolding around the exterior.

  • Impact: HIGH – While the exterior of the Cathedral ordinarily makes for great photographs, the equipment, scaffolding, and fencing makes this a poor time to go.  You can still get unobstructed views of the front of the Cathedral but the side is not picturesque (see photo below).  The interior of the Cathedral is the real attraction but netting spans the ceiling of the sanctuary to protect visitors from falling debris (see photo below). As masons check the ceiling there will be scaffolding set up on the interior as well. There are other places in the Cathedral to take photos, and if there weren’t a better alternative I’d be tempted to give it a MEDIUM rating, but if you only have a short time you should check out the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception instead.
  • Expected Completion: Phototourism DC reader, talented photographer, and Cathedral docent Chris Budny filled me in (see his comments) on the timeline for these repairs awhile back.  I haven’t seen an update since.  The exterior of the Cathedral will be in various states of disrepair for the next 10 YEARS!  The interior work will also likely take years.  The Cathedral is still open but unobstructed wide-angle shots will be tough to come by.

          

Photos taken April 1st, 2012
______________________________________________________________

Photo taken July 22nd, 2012

3. The Reflecting Pool - This is close to completion.  One of the most well-known features in DC, the Reflecting Pool, is currently undergoing renovation to add filtration systems.  The work has been moving along for a year and is nearly complete.

  • Impact: HIGH – Some of the most iconic views of DC incorporate the Reflecting Pool in some way.  Whether that be photos of the Lincoln Memorial or of the Washington Monument.
  • Expected Completion: UPDATE (28 August 2012): I just read an interview with the National Park Director on NPR, saying that the Reflecting Pool should be fully opened (i.e., the fence will be removed) by August 31st.  That is great news!  My understanding is that there will still be a ceremony for the grand reopening, but that will come later.  I am going to head down to the Pool this weekend and post some updated photos.  For photogs visiting DC, this is a huge deal.
    ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken June 11, 2012

4. The Supreme Court – The Supreme Court building has been undergoing restoration work for years now, but until recently that work has stayed to the less visually interesting North and South sides.  Within the last couple months scaffolding has popped up along the entire West (front) side of the building.

  • Impact: HIGH- This is a somewhat dated picture.  The scaffolding now also covers the area at the top of the stairs and there is some additional netting set up which obscures the view. According to this article, a “scrim” with a photograph of the facade is supposed to be hung up along the scaffolding to decrease it’s impact on the look of the building, but that has not happened yet.
  • Expected Completion: TBD – Articles I’ve read about this restoration effort don’t mention the timeline.  These things generally take longer than you think they should take.  My guess is that this will take at least a year, putting the estimated completion time somewhere in mid-2013.  I’ll keep you updated.

 ______________________________________________________________

Photo taken June 5, 2012

5. The National Mall – No change, it still looks terrible.  In addition to the normal turf restoration that goes on during the winter months there is also a more extensive project laying of sewer and draining pipes. There are fences blocking off the Mall from 3rd St. near the Capitol down to the Smithsonian Castle (basically the area shown in the Washington Monument picture above).

  • Impact: HIGH- The construction zone looks just like that, a construction zone; piles of dirt, construction equipment, and fencing. I’m sure things will look great when they’re done but 1/3 of the National Mall looks absolutely horrible right now. Photos down the National Mall either of, or from, the Capitol include this eyesore.
  • Expected Completion: December, 2012 – Signs posted on the fences surrounding the construction zone say the project will continue through December 2012.

 ______________________________________________________________

6. The U.S. Capitol – This has improved drastically over the last month.  The base of the Capitol dome has been undergoing restoration for the last 9 months or so.  There is some scaffolding set up and a large construction yard set up on the Northwest side of the building.

  • Impact: LOW-  The construction workers removed the plastic sheeting that used to cover the scaffolding (probably because of the heat) and have started to remove the top of the scaffolding.  It is hardly visible now and will likely have little impact on the quality of your photos (see photo on left below).  The construction yard is still there though and that really detracts from photos from the Northwest side (see photo on right below), but there are plenty of other angles.
  • Expected Completion: 1-3 months – According to an article in the Washington Post, the work around the base of the dome is expected to be complete around October, 2012, though it appears things may be wrapping up early.  There has been talk about restoring the rest of the dome, a project that would take several YEARS to complete, but that is now in doubt because of funding problems. UPDATE (10 JULY 2012): How quickly things change. I was walking by the Capitol today and saw workers taking down the fence in the picture at the lower right.  It will probably take a while before this area gets back to normal but things are winding down.  This likely answers the question about whether the rest of the dome will be renovated.

         

    Photo taken July 6, 2012                                               Photo taken August 2, 2012

______________________________________________________________

Photo taken July 6, 2012

7. Union Station – The city of Washington, DC has embarked on a long-term restoration of the area immediately in front of Union Station. The interior is also undergoing repair for damage suffered during the earthquake.

  • Impact: HIGH- The exterior construction is starting to wind down but still occupies most of Columbus Circle.  Exterior pictures without construction barriers are still difficult.  The interior is highly cluttered with scaffolding.  There are also nets hanging across the entire main hall to protect people from falling bits of plaster.  All of this makes for less than desirable photography.
  • Expected Completion: Exterior: 2013- References to this construction in newspapers have referred to this as a 2-year construction process and it began in August of 2011. Interior: several months at least – It’s hard to say but judging by the amount of scaffolding it looks like there’s still a lot of work to be done.  Once the restoration work is complete there are several additional construction projects scheduled for the Main Hall, meaning it may be several years before the interior is ready to photograph.

______________________________________________________________

8. The National Museum of African American History and Culture - The newest Smithsonian Museum, set to open in 2015, is now just an open construction lot.

  • Impact: LOW – The reason I bring this up here is because I’ve gotten several great pictures of the Washington Monument during twilight (see picture on the right) from the place that is now fenced off for construction. There are plenty of other great places to take picture of the Washington Monument though.
  • Expected Completion: The museum is expected to be completed in 2015. I can’t tell from the drawings of the building whether there will still be a nice, unobstructed view of the Washington Monument from it’s grounds. But there will be plenty of new sights to photograph.

UPCOMING PROJECTS

1. Constitution Gardens and the Washington MonumentThe Trust for the National Mall recently solicited design proposals for several areas along the National Mall, namely the area to the North of the Reflecting Pool known as Constitution Gardens and a theater on the grounds of the Washington Monument.  Winning designs have been selected but it is unclear how soon construction will begin, what it’s impact will be, and how long it will take.

2. American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial –  This Memorial is supposed to go up relatively soon in an area to the South of the National Botanic Gardens.  It is out of the way and won’t likely get in the way of your photos but it’s worth keeping in mind as a photo location in a year or two when it’s complete.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 36 other followers